Author Archive

Kids, Fishing and Derbies

Written by Jim Huckabay on June 9, 2017. Posted in Uncategorized

Well, here it is at last; Washington’s Free Fishing Weekend. Buckle up.

Tomorrow and Sunday, no one in your family will need a license to fish in any open water in the state. Here’s the small print (read it like that hurried description of side effects at the end of drug commercials): you need no state license, but size limits, bag limits and closures are still in effect. And you will also be required to complete a catch record card (available free at license dealers, and online at wdfw.wa.gov/fish/regs/fishregs.htm) for any salmon, steelhead, sturgeon or halibut you catch. This is also Kid Fishing Derby weekend.

Sadly, I now only have adults (Edward, last of the Hucklings, turned 21 years ago), and my Grand-Hucklings live too far away. Still, you can take your youngsters to one of a couple great fishing opportunities in Paradise.

Both of these kids’ derbies happen here in Kittitas County tomorrow (Saturday, 6/10), both are for ages 14 and under, and both have been happening for nigh on 30 years

The party at Fio Rito is the Annual Kiwanis Kids Free Fishing Derby. Registration and fishing starts at 10 a.m. and runs to Noon, for age groups of five and under, 6 through 10, and 11 through 14. Once upon a time, Kiwanis reared fish and turned them loose in local creeks for the event, but times – and rules – change, so Fio Rito it is. There are still cool prizes for the kids who come fish, though, with a bike, a fishing combo, a tackle box or travel gear for the top fishers in each age group. Every kid will walk away with some sort of fishing stuff – and probably some nice fish. Dale DeFoor has more info at 509-929-0449.

These fishing experiences touch people in many ways. Dale still tells of the child struggling with cancer who was excited to win an age group bike years ago. After he passed, his parents supplied bikes for other derby winners over several years. For young and old alike, fishing triggers a deep connection with Earth and Spirit.

The Upper County party is the Annual Easton Kids Fishing Derby on Lavender Lake (Exit 74 off I-90). This adventure has been co-sponsored since its inception by the USFS Cle Elum Ranger District and Cascade Field and Stream Club.  Registration starts at 6 a.m. at Lavender Lake, with lines in the water at 7. Prizes include fishing, camping and floating gear, and are given in each of several age groups. Other activities (fish anatomy, habitat, ethics, etc.) at several stations, will get kids into a free raffle for even more prizes. Mark Bennett will have info at 509-670-1464, but all you really must do is show up with your under-14ers.

This Easton Party always features appearances by Smokey Bear. Mark will tell you that some kids are a little unsure about it all, but most can’t wait to get a picture with Smokey – and still talk about it decades later. What a great way to kick off summer with kids!

These derbies can be great fun, but funny things happen when gangs of people get together to fish. And, as The Old Man used to say, “It ain=t all funny ha-ha.”

Near the end of the last century, I took eight-year-old Edward and thirteen-year-old Anna to a fishing derby at Hansen Pond (now Kiwanis Pond) near Cle Elum.

The instructions clearly said “Do not start fishing until 7:00 a.m.” We were there at 6:50. There were two dozen lines in the water, and the first fish had already been registered.

Adults could cast lines and bait hooks, but fish were to be hooked, played and landed by the kids.  As we walked to a likely fishing spot, I talked to a dad and a granddad holding and baiting two separate rods for the five- or six-year-old kid standing by. They explained that they wanted to make sure he would always have a rod ready to go and wouldn’t have any “down” time.

We watched half a dozen dads casting, hooking and bringing in fish. A couple of them actually stepped on their kids as they cast over, and across, the lines of anybody in the way. Frustrated, Edward noted there was plenty of room, and asked why the man with two little kids just down the shoreline kept casting both their lines over his, which was straight out. I allowed as how it was probably because he was catching fish. Then I suggested “maybe he thinks your hole is the only one in the lake with any trout in it.”

Eventually, the guy handed the rods off to his kids. In time, he actually let his boy and girl hook and land two nice truck trout.

By 9, the adults had pretty much surrendered, and kids were fishing, focused and happy. It seemed to me that a few fishers were being born. The Hucklings decided it was great time.

A friend once observed, “Teach a kid to fish and she’ll hassle you for more ‘til she’s grown and gone!”

Even the random nature of +/- sportsmanlike gang fishing is a good start to a fishing life. Take a kid fishing.

Swallows Bring Summer – and Eat Pests

Written by Jim Huckabay on June 2, 2017. Posted in Uncategorized

Based on conversations with several homeys over the past week or so, my recent garden experience is about normal for this particular year. Even at mid-day, I was finding that the mosquitoes would suddenly outnumber the weeds I was pulling. I found myself praying – begging really – for swallows. Thankfully, we are entering their season.

I love watching swallows – just off the water, dipping for insects or a drink – or most anywhere. I have, on occasion, been swept away at four-way stops, or stoplights, watching violet-green and cliff swallows sweeping and dipping (The Old Man called it “jitterbugging”) through and around cars. I may, sometimes, have been so enthralled watching them snatch up injured insects rising off warm hoods or grills that other drivers felt compelled to rudely remind me to move my rig.

In addition to our stoplight jitterbuggers, we commonly see tree, bank and barn varieties. (There are plenty of northern rough-winged swallows in Paradise, too, but we seem to notice them less.)

In these days of concern over Zika, West Nile and other mosquito-carried diseases, the swallows of Paradise take on a whole new importance. They will individually and collectively eat uncounted tons of mosquitos and other flying insects this summer.

Horse owners will often tell you, enthusiastically and with a touch of awe, about the mud nests on the walls of their boarding barns. They will probably even tell you about the birds keeping flying insects off their horses and foals. With a nod to the enthusiasm of Deborah “Bird Whisperer” Essman for these amazing and valuable birds, let’s talk swallows.

All six of the swallows we enjoy in Washington are elegant flyers with long, pointed wings, and (except for the cliff swallow) notched tails. We see plenty of barn (Hirundo rustica), violet-green (Tachycineta thalassina) and cliff swallows (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota). Along with tree (Tachycineta bicolor) and bank (Riparia riparia) swallows, there is a fair population of the northern rough-winged (Stelgidopteryx serripennis). They are all migratory birds.

Tree swallows arrive first in spring and head south last in fall, and are the only swallows to largely winter within the U.S.  (Most of ours winter along the Gulf of Mexico or southern California.) Flying insects make up most of the tree swallow’s diet, although more than any other Washington swallow, the tree swallow eats berries and other vegetative matter when insects aren’t flying. This allows it to weather cold spells better than other swallows, which thus allows it to winter farther north.

On the other hand, barn and cliff swallows have among the longest migration flights of any of our land birds – some actually winter as far south as Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego at the southern tip of South America.

Tree swallows nest in tree cavities or nest boxes (especially near water) and compete – often poorly – with mountain bluebirds, flickers, starlings and others for cavities. Where nest boxes have been provided, their populations have increased.

In addition to cliffs (check out the Selah Cliffs Natural Area at the west-bound I-82 rest area by the Training Center), cliff swallows use bridges, culverts, and buildings near water for nesting.  Mud nests are bulbous affairs, stacked one on top of the other, with entrances on the sides, facing a bit downward. These colonial creatures make the most densely populated communities of any breeding birds on the continent; including as many as 1,000 or more pairs, each with its own gourd-shaped nest somewhere in the jumble.

Barn swallows are our most common urban-area swallows, living wherever civilization goes. Cup-shaped nests are made of mud plastered to the timbers of barns or other outbuildings.

Barn and cliff swallows are often observed carrying mouthful after mouthful of mud, then shaping it with feet, beak and body. This is work. One study found that a particular pair of barn swallows – to collect the mud and materials for their nest – made 1,359 trips, covering a total of 137 miles in a work period of six to eight days. It appears that they still take time to play (celebrate?), however, as many have been observed carrying feathers high into the sky, dropping them, and swooping down to catch them in mid-air before adding final touches to the nest.

Overall, swallow populations are healthy and increasing. This is good: few sights are more enjoyable than those flashes of orange, purple, green or brown in rapid, skillful flight around the bridges, overpasses, buildings, water and ag ground of Paradise.

Learn more about the sounds, nests, colors and lives of swallows from www.birdweb.org/, www.allaboutbirds.org, or a good field guide. Photos. Too.

As robins bring spring, so swallows bring summer – and help keep it livable.

Catching Big Flat Fish

Written by Jim Huckabay on May 26, 2017. Posted in Uncategorized

Somewhere in one of those January or February sportsmen shows, I had a confab with Captain Don Davenport. I’ve known Don for a decade or more and have rocked away more than a few days aboard one or another of the boats in his Ocean Sportfishing fleet out of Westport, Washington. By the time we finished catching up, I had reserved a couple spots on a May 11 halibut fishing trip.

At a moment in late March, Homey Bill Boyum and I were discussing our upcoming July Kenai River sockeye trip with his son, Jon. We had pretty well settled on where and how many Alaska sockeye we would catch this year, and had gear needs sorted out, when it suddenly occurred to us we ought to go fishing before July.

We made a plan to go fish the lower Columbia with our Oregon buddy Steve Souvenir for a couple days – just to somehow enrich his life. Then I recalled I still had two spots on a halibut boat, and asked Bill if he wanted to go chase big flat fish out of Westport. His response was something to the effect of “When do we leave?”

My last Westport trip had been on the Rock n Roll, a six-pack boat with Captain Steve “Need for Speed” Connally, a deckhand and six fishers. We’d been first to the halibut flats and first to the ling cod reefs, as promised, and we limited on both, with a big mess of sea bass and black cod. That was a very fast and rough ride, to a remarkable day of fishing. This year, we would be aboard the 14-fisherman Angler, under the wing of Captain Chris West and Deckhand Josh.

After the interminable wait which always accompanies such plans, we hit Westport early evening of Wednesday, 10 May. We checked into our room and wandered into my favorite coastal town for dinner. I mentioned our 2:15 a.m. checkin at the Ocean Sportfishing office, to which Homey responded, “Are you #!*? kidding me?”

Thus, very early and on time, we were clearing balances and getting the day’s marching orders. As always, I dropped ten bucks on a halibut derby ticket. As we walked down to the docked Angler, Bill asked about the ticket. “Yeah, old habit,” I said. ‘It supports old charter boat captains (I think) and works for keeping a sustainable fishing and charter boat business. I like that. …And you never know when your number will come up – you just never know.”

Captain Chris was ready to go by 3, but some folks missed the memo. We were underway at 3:45. Since we could be out beyond 12 hours, Cap needed a backup skipper. Who else? I shook hands with Captain “Need for Speed” Steve, now mostly recovered from back surgery, and leaned toward Bill. “Don says Chris is great, and now here’s Steve; this will be a super day!”

We headed over the harbor mouth bar, amid grumbles of rough water. Captain Steve and I smiled as I told my pansy friends that this ride was a walk in the park. Three hours later, we were on the halibut flats with a dozen other boats.

Captain Chris had an amazing way of managing the Angler as it drifted over the flats. We focused on the halibut hundreds of feet below us, as the Angler’s rocking became the rhythm of our fishing. As we drifted – even as others came too close to us – Cap somehow kept all the fishing lines parallel. In a dozen halibut trips I had never seen that. Snags or tangles were very rare.

We quickly were into fish, and I slowly hauled up a very good fish. Captain Steve figured a bit over 35 pounds, but noted that he was often a few pounds off on bigger fish. Bill lost a smaller fish, then brought up a nice 25+ pounder. Each drift across the deep flat brought another handful of 20 to 30 pound flatfish up from two football fields beneath us, keeping Deckhand Josh and Baitmaster Greg busy netting and baiting. In near record time, Cap said we were full of halibut and pointed us toward his favorite ling cod reef.

On the ling cod reef, from a fraction of our former depth, Bill and a couple others landed nice ten-pound lings. Over the next hours, we all caught near-limits of rockfish (sea bass), as most everyone warmed to the brighter day and quieter water.

At some point, Cap fired up the motors and pointed us back toward Westport. We examined and photographed fish as they came up for filleting by Deckhand Josh. Captain Steve asked if I had a derby ticket, and the decision was made to not filet my fish.

We reached the dock some thirteen hours after we left it. Captain Chris noted that the big halibut of the season was 48 pounds, but for the day so far was a bit over 35. As fishers thanked Cap and his crew, gathered filets and stepped onto terra firma, Josh and I shouldered a gaff with my fish and hustled to the weighmaster.

Westport Charterboat Association Derbies are for lingcod, halibut, salmon and tuna. Tickets are only for fishers on licensed charter boats. Some 350 folks are out on a given day; maybe 270 of them buy derby tickets. There are prizes up to $500 for weekly winners and a $2,000+ for season leaders. This year, the season’s biggest Chinook salmon will bring a derby ticket holder $10,000.

The season’s biggest ling and tuna have yet to be caught – and someone will catch that $10,000 king salmon. Could well happen on Captain Chris’ Angler, or in the presence of one of Ocean Sportfishing’s other skilled and hardworking crews (see www.oceansportfishing.com).

If I told you how much my 44 pound 11 ounce halibut was worth in that particular day’s derby, I’d probably have to report the five hundred bucks as income. I would do that anyway, of course, but I’m still not telling.

Go fish. Happy summer…

 

Photo of Bill (top) by Jim Huckabay and photo of Josh and Jim (bottom) by Bill Boyum…

Ducks Unlimited and the Hunting Film Tour

Written by Jim Huckabay on May 19, 2017. Posted in Uncategorized

It’s perfect timing really. Next Wednesday, by midnight, we must have our dream tickets – our special hunt applications – dropped into the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife system for the June draw. On Thursday, we will gather at the Central Washington University Student Union Rec Center Theater, pay our 10 bucks, and watch a great film of successful hunts like the ones we filed for the night before. One of us will win a Yeti65 cooler. Perfect.

This is the Hunting Film Tour, brought to Paradise by Ducks Unlimited (DU). The film is a “two hour conservation minded, fair chase hunting film filled with awesome stories and breathtaking cinematography!” Next Thursday, we will gather to celebrate our hunting heritage, and the conservation of wild things and places which has long accompanied it.

Sitka Gear is the primary sponsor for the Hunting Film Tour, with a number of others including DU, the Sportsman’s Warehouse, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF), Wild Sheep Foundation, Yeti, Kimber, Federal Premium and more. All these organizations share a devotion to our hunting heritage and a forever future for wildlife.

You are no doubt familiar with the famous Ducks Unlimited mission statement. DU “conserves, restores, and manages wetlands and associated habitats for North America’s waterfowl.  These habitats also benefit other wildlife and people.” With very few word changes, this is OUR mission – and that of all the Hunting Film Tour sponsors, as well as local outfits like our 98-year-old Kittitas County Field and Stream Club. We are all in the game of ensuring wildlife and its habitat for our children’s children and those who follow them.

Ducks Unlimited formed in 1937, taking in earlier groups which branched out from the Boone and Crockett Club in response to nosediving waterfowl numbers across North America. It became the model for most other successful wildlife conservation organizations which, together, have taken huge strides toward having wildlife for future generations. The 700,000+ world-wide members of DU continue to add to the three and a half billion dollars raised since 1937. At least eighty percent of the money raised is used directly for conservation projects, enhancing waterfowl, wetlands and other critical habitats, and nearly fourteen million acres have been conserved across North America. No other conservation or environmental group can match DU for putting its money where its mouth is, but they all work at it.

The “factories” producing most of the waterfowl we see in our part of the world also provide habitat for billions of land birds and animals. A good many of these areas are under development pressure, and International DU is the organization which has been most successful at finding solutions that protect habitat and meet human needs. Thus, DU is supported by a broad range of sportsmen – not just waterfowl fans.

Restoring and enhancing quality habitat in key waterfowl areas is a game we play each time we commit to look after wild things and wild places into the future.  Some of us play louder than others; consider that eastern Washington is one of the top ten DU support regions in North America.

In Washington, something over 30,000 people buy federal duck stamps. Many of them are non-hunters, who see the duck stamp program as a way to contribute to the future of all bird life. Since its inception in 1934, this federal program has conserved 5.7 million acres and created or expanded 300 federal wildlife refuges. No matter how you look at it, waterfowl habitat conservation serves almost all the wild things in which we share interest.

Of course, you can easily find everything you want to know about waterfowl and the conservation of our habitat. Check out  www.fws.gov/duckstamps/conservation/mbcc.htm, www.birdnote.org, or www.ducks.org.

Ensuring a future is simple, really. The very process of celebrating our hunting heritage involves us in restoring and enhancing quality habitat for wildlife for those who will live in times we will never see. This is a game we are all playing – and it brings us great pleasure.

In six days, the Reecer Creek Rod, Gun, Working Dog & Outdoor Think Tank Benevolent Association will convene in the SURC Theatre at 6:30 p.m. One of us will leave with a Yeti65 Cooler, a bunch of us will have hats, mugs and other swag, and all of us will enjoy a great film of hunters doing what we just sent in our own applications to do.

Get your $10 ticket online at www.huntingfilmtour.com, at 509-423-3954, or at the door of the SURC Theater (the SURC is at the end of Chestnut, just north of University Way on campus).

See you Thursday evening. Let’s celebrate!

Pick an Outdoor Pass – Any Pass (?)

Written by Jim Huckabay on May 12, 2017. Posted in Uncategorized

One of my local heroes dropped me a suggestion a few days ago. Hal Mason wrote, “I recently looked at the passes available to Washington residents that are needed to get out in the outdoors. What a confusing mess. It might be a welcome thing to many people to have some clear information about what passes are required where. Might be impossible to sort out but worth a try.” Thus, the following attempt to make sense of your outdoor access options.

This “pay for play” on public land has long intrigued me. In the ‘50s, few passes were required. Public lands were managed with our tax dollars, along with all other public services we expected from our government in exchange for tithes to those we elected to look after our public business. Somehow over the decades – even as our population and tax revenues grew – “government” support of our lands dwindled. We have faced an ever-increasing number of ever-rising fees to play on our own land. While I understand some of this, most of it remains a mystery to me. There is a book in there somewhere.

Be that as it may, today’s reality is that we need passes and/or permits to recreate on our public ground. They have different uses and purposes, but we are regularly reminded that both “permits” and “passes” have been established to make certain our public lands are maintained to such a level that we are assured of a quality outdoor experience on them.

Consider passes first. Understand that passes are for access, and many of the areas you access may have separate fees for camping or backcountry use. Also understand that most agencies – recognizing fees are hardships for some – have “free” days or times.

To park on your public ground managed by Washington state agencies, the Discover Pass is the only one you must purchase – $30 for the Annual Pass and $10/car for a Day Pass. This pass allows you to park in Washington State Parks, and on Department of Natural Resources and Department of Fish and Wildlife lands. It gets you access to seven million plus acres of state-managed recreation ground. Buy your Discover Pass online, at retail outlets, at most state parks or when renewing your car license tabs. (Some outlets add a small handling charge to purchases.)

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Vehicle Use/Access Pass is provided at no additional charge with your hunting or fishing license, and provides access to ground managed by DFW.

Access to your ground managed by federal agencies is a bit more complex. For purchase or more detail on the passes below, see www.fs.fed.us/visit/passes-permits/recreation-fees-passes.

The America the Beautiful Annual Pass costs $80 and gets you into any national park, Forest Service or other federal fee site for one year. Purchase at a park or online.

The best bargain around is the Interagency Senior Pass. For $20 (must purchase in person at a park or fee site), any US citizen 62 or older will get a lifetime pass honored nationwide at any federal site charging entrance fees.

Free Annual Passes provide access to federal land for all active military personnel and their dependents, for volunteers after 250 hours, to all 4th graders in America and to eligible folks with permanent disabilities. Some are annual and some are lifetime passes honored nationwide.

Mount Rainier and Olympic National Parks Entrance fee is $25/car ($10/person to walk or bike in), good for seven days. Rates vary for motorcycles. Annual Pass is $50 for either park, but is only good at the park where it was purchased. North Cascades National Park charges to fee.

All US Forest Service trailheads in Washington and Oregon with toilets, picnic tables, or so on charge a fee – go online to www.discovernw.org and click on “plan a visit” for details.

The National Forest Recreation Day Pass and ePass is $5/car for a day of trailhead parking. (These can be bought ahead and dates filled in as needed.)

The Northwest Forest Pass is an annual $30 pass good at Forest Service day-use or entrance fee sites. The pass is available at USFS offices and visitor centers and online at the link above.

Mount St. Helens National Monument is managed by the Forest Service and charges a per-person fee of $8 per person (under 16 kids are free). Certain annual and senior passes are honored.

A number of our National Wildlife Refuges (such as Nisqually, Dungeness and Ridgefield) also require a recreation pass. That charge is generally about $3/family ($15/year), purchased at the visitor center. Your other federal passes or Federal Duck Stamp pass will often work, too.

So, what about those permits? Permits are generally for backcountry/wilderness travel in quota areas. They serve to control the amount of foot traffic in fragile environments – as well as limit overall numbers of travelers to preserve quality experiences. Some permits are free, and others come with small fees. Check with individual parks for more information.

Washington Trails Association has plenty more info on all of this – as well as Sno-Park information – at www.wta.org/go-outside/passes/passes-and-permit-info.

I hope this helps!

Happy summer! Pick a pass – any pass – and get out there.